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Volume 2, Number 42               November 24 - 30, 2002            Quezon City, Philippines

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War Plan in Iraq Sees Large Force and Quick Strikes

By David E. Sanger, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 9 President Bush has settled on a war plan for Iraq that would begin with an air campaign shorter than the one for the Persian Gulf war, senior administration officials say. It would feature swift ground actions to seize footholds in the country and strikes to cut off the leadership in Baghdad.

The plan, approved in recent weeks by Mr. Bush well before the Security Council's unanimous vote on Friday to disarm Iraq, calls for massing 200,000 to 250,000 troops for attack by air, land and sea. The offensive would probably begin with a "rolling start" of substantially fewer forces, Pentagon and military officials say.

Mr. Bush, speaking at a news conference on Thursday, did not discuss the secret process for planning a possible war, but he noted that if military action was required to compel Iraq to disarm, the United States and its allies would "move swiftly with force to do the job." He repeated his determination today, saying in his weekly radio address that "Iraq can be certain that the old game of cheat-and-retreat, tolerated at other times, will no longer be tolerated."

The military plan calls for the quick capture of land within Iraq, which would be used as bases to funnel American forces deeper into the country. That approach is intended to relieve some of the diplomatic pressure created by massing troops and initiating attacks from neighboring nations, including Saudi Arabia.

Under the plan, United States and coalition forces could operate out of such forward bases in northern, western and southern Iraq, building on lessons learned in Afghanistan, where the military seized a similar outpost south of Kandahar.

As the Pentagon puts the finishing touches on a plan of attack, White House and State Department officials are discussing what one senior official called a "seamless transition" from attack to a military occupation of parts of the country. It would include efforts to deliver food to Iraqis and to engage them quickly in planning for economic development and eventual democracy in areas that President Saddam Hussein has terrorized.

Meanwhile, Iraqi scientists and local military officials would be encouraged to reveal the location of hidden stores of weapons of mass destruction, a process Mr. Bush publicly encouraged from the Rose Garden on Friday when he told Iraqis that "by helping the process of disarmament, they help their country."

One senior official, drawing on comparisons with the American occupation of Japan in 1945, said, "Our message will be that the faster we find the weapons and arrest Saddam's guys, the faster they get some normalcy."

Mr. Bush, after several war-planning meetings with Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Tommy R. Franks, the commander of American forces in the gulf, has decided that military action in Iraq would be carried out with the large troop levels that General Franks has consistently advocated. Even so, Mr. Bush can still maintain the formal position that no decision has been reached because he has not yet ordered the nation to war.

Even as the United Nations weapons inspectors prepare to fly to Iraq, the American military is moving into a new phase of positioning logistical forces that military officials say are significant indicators of a movement toward war.

The Army is loading tugboats, forklifts and other cargo-handling equipment onto the Tern, a giant cargo ship in Hampton Roads, Va., that is bound for the gulf to prepare ports for the arrival of tanks and other armored equipment.

But the orders to send those heavy ground forces have not been given. "We have a lot of things teed up to go if the big guys decide to send it," said one senior Defense Department official. "But no green lights yet."

Pentagon officials had been awaiting language from the Security Council because the timetable for the inspection process will shape the schedule of troop deployments and, ultimately, the start of any offensive that Mr. Bush may order.

Heavy equipment recently deployed to the gulf region will remain while inspections get underway, officials said. But troops and ships sent for exercises or regular duty might rotate with fresh forces if it appeared that the inspections were moving ahead without obstruction.

The plan still has some moving parts, senior administration officials said, but it calls for 200,000 to 250,000 troops several Army and Marine divisions, aircraft carriers and Air Force wings. The only ally expected to contribute significant ground forces is Britain, with several thousand troops expected to participate.

"There were options within the plan, but there has only been one plan," one military officer said. "They have settled on the bulk of it." But the officer said the war plan maintains flexibility over the final deployment of troops in order to cope with a range of Iraqi responses.

The entire troop total may not necessarily be in the region when the offensive begins. The bulk of the force would probably stand ready in case of battlefield setbacks and be poised to occupy parts of Iraq as soon as resistance ends.

Under the plan, the air campaign would be less than the 43 days of the first gulf war, and probably under a month, military officials said.

In the opening hours of the air campaign, Navy and Air Force jets, including B-2 bombers carrying 16 one-ton satellite-guided bombs and B-1 bombers carrying 24 of the same weapons, would attack a range of targets from military headquarters to air defenses. Only 9 percent of the weapons dropped in the gulf war were precision-guided; this time, the figure would be well in excess of 60 percent, allowing more effective bombing with fewer total aircraft, officials say.

The campaign would quickly seek to cut off the country's leadership in Baghdad and a few other important command centers in hopes of causing a rapid collapse of the government, officials said.

As in Afghanistan, Special Operations forces would infiltrate Iraq early in the campaign to designate targets, to destroy sites holding weapons of mass destruction, and to seize other objectives to prevent Mr. Hussein from slowing the American assault by flooding the marshes in southern Iraq or igniting the country's vast oil fields, officials said.

Because the United States wants to help transform Iraq quickly into a liberated nation, the air campaign would be carried out to avoid the major destruction of the gulf war. The campaign would try to avoid destroying important city services and alienating the civilian population, and would also encourage Iraqi troops to defect. The targets of a bombing campaign would be the specific pillars of power holding up Iraq's government, like leadership headquarters and Mr. Hussein's sprawling presidential compounds.

"While we would not want to kill many Iraqi soldiers, if they stupidly fight, we will," a senior military official said.

Pentagon officials say the war plan does not envision a clean break between the end of an air campaign and the opening of a ground offensive, as in the first gulf war. Instead, ground operations would be more likely to be woven into the opening stages of the air war, with the aerial bombardment continuing "as long as we find targets," one official said.

The "inside-out" approach of attacking centers of power first aims to capitalize on the American military's ability to strike at long distances and to maneuver forces rapidly to neutralize a large target. One important aim would be to disrupt Mr. Hussein's ability to order the use of weapons of mass destruction. Another would be to wrest control of Baghdad from Iraqi forces without getting bogged down in block-by-block urban warfare.

But Mr. Hussein has proven to be a vicious adversary, and senior administration officials have mounted a campaign to warn Iraq's military commanders that they will be charged with war crimes if they unleash weapons of mass destruction. This week, Mr. Bush hinted at another concern, that the Iraqi government would purposefully sacrifice its population to stain an American military victory with civilian blood.

"The generals in Iraq must understand clearly there will be consequences for their behavior," Mr. Bush said on Thursday. "Should they choose, if force is necessary, to behave in a way that endangers the lives of their own citizens, as well as citizens in the neighborhood, there will be a consequence. They will be held to

Mr. Bush did not say so specifically, but veteran analysts of the Iraqi government say Mr. Hussein is preparing thousands of civilian volunteers to fill "martyrs' brigades" and offer up their lives to bombs and advancing troops, even though it is unclear how many would follow through.

Some of those volunteers would hope to slow the American-led offensive by acting as suicide bombers or fighting in neighborhood defense squads, but their true strategic goal would be to generate anti-American feelings in the region.

"There is no consideration about them triumphing over an enemy, but a second definition of victory," said Yossef Bodansky, author of "The High Cost of Peace: How Washington's Middle East Policy Left America Vulnerable to Terrorism." "What Saddam is saying to himself is, `I'll give them real civilian bodies, real civilian blood on Al Jazeera or CNN.' "

The move to war has already raised concerns of terrorist reprisals in the United States, and senior Pentagon officials say they anticipate a mobilization of the National Guard and Reserves equal to or larger than the 265,000 called to active duty in the first gulf war.

Most of these reserve forces would be assigned to guard sites like military installations, civilian power plants and airports, although some would be assigned to guard bases overseas and certain specialties would be required for the Iraqi offensive. Several units have been notified that they may be summoned to duty as early as January.

In another sign of the total force that may be involved in offensive action and post-war occupation of Iraq, Mr. Rumsfeld has presented the White House with a plan to inoculate as many as 500,000 service members against smallpox. Mr. Bush has not yet decided on the vaccinations, which could have serious, even fatal, side effects for a small percentage of those receiving the vaccine.

The timetable for a war is closely tied to the requirements laid out in the Security Council's resolution and to Mr. Hussein's compliance. The last deadline is Feb. 21, when inspectors are to report their findings to the Security Council. Military planners say the longer nights and moderate weather then are optimal for war.

"The task the international community now faces is to determine what choice Saddam Hussein will make," Mr. Rumsfeld said on Friday, whether he will truly disarm or evade the inspectors.

Copyright The New York Times Company

November 10, 2002  Bulatlat.com

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